Republican Fantasy Camp
A Short Story
By Robert Charest
Today I awoke a couple hours earlier than normal. I was off from work, with an entirely carefree day before me, and was feeling chipper and clear headed, so I steeped a cup of chamomile tea and took it out into the yard, where I settled into the newspaper beneath the misty, mellow, morning sun.
It wasn’t a particularly noteworthy news day, so my attention gradually drifted to the advertisements. I noticed that Pansy’s Breakfast Pantry was serving ‘all you can eat pancakes off the griddle’ for five dollars until ten. Mmm, I love Pansy’s pancakes, I thought, and I am a bit hungry. Next I noticed that Manny’s Barber Shop was having a five dollar special on haircuts all day. Hmm, mine is getting long, I thought, and it’s such a simple cut that no one’s ever screwed it up. Then on page twelve I saw that Delvin’s Carpet Cleaning Company was running a special: twenty five dollars per room. Hmm, my carpets are getting a bit overgrown, I thought, and could use a good coiffure.
I gave it a short ponder, and decided to spend the day doing some errands to tidy up my life. I phoned Delvin’s and inquired as to their schedule. They said they could be at my place at four thirty. I replied that would be perfect, that I might be out, and that if I was they were welcome to let themselves in and get started using the spare key inside the ceramic frog beside the steps. I then moved all the furniture out the way, and set out to start my day with breakfast at Pansy’s. The pancakes were so fluffy and delicious, and the butter and raspberry syrup so scrumptious, that I ate like I had just straggled in from wandering lost in the desert, and managed to pack down nine. I left a nice tip for the waitress, who had been so attentive in reloading my plate and refilling my water glass, then went to the counter to settle the check.
One of the short order cooks was also manning the register, and he came over to me and said: “So, how was everything?”
“Outstanding,” I replied. “I couldn’t be more satisfied.”
“That’s what we like to hear,” he answered. “Ten bucks and we’re square.”
“Ten bucks?” I repeated with incredulity. “The ad in the paper says ‘all you can eat pancakes off the griddle’ for five bucks.”
“Oh, that,” the cook responded. “You had the flapjacks off the flatiron; they’re four for five dollars, and a dollar apiece after that. You had nine, which comes to ten bucks.”
I was flustered. “What, pray tell, is the difference between a flapjack and a pancake?”
“Something in the ingredients,” he explained. “Adrian usually makes the pancakes, and he knows the difference, but he called out sick today. If you want to come and ask him, he’ll be here Friday.”
“That’s about the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” I stated. “What if I refuse to pay the difference? What if I leave five bucks and walk out the door?”
The cook glanced at the clock and answered: “You’ll be able to explain it to the police on their way here: they come in at the same time every day, precisely two minutes from now.”
I muttered under my breath and begrudgingly withdrew a ten spot from my billfold. I flipped it onto the counter in a manner that clearly expressed my indignation, and said: “I’m not happy about it, and probably won’t be back for a long time, if ever.”
“Just be glad you didn’t get the hotcakes from Tommy’s skillet; he’d have charged you fifteen bucks.”
“Whatever,” I mumbled in disgust, then turned and left in a huff. Walking through the foyer I passed the two policemen who were entering the restaurant, and said to them: “I recommend the flapcakes, they’re fabulous.”
They gave me weird looks, and I continued on my way before any response on their part could start a verbal exchange.
I walked around the corner to Manny’s Barber Shop. There was a sign in the window confirming that men’s haircuts were five dollars all day. I put in my name, took a seat in the waiting area, and a few minutes later was face to face with one of Manny’s finest. I explained that what I wanted was for him to give me a simple, short, no fuss, low maintenance cut by setting the clippers to number three and running them around my whole head, then to push the sideburns up, and trim the eyebrows and stray hairs protruding from the nostrils and ears. In five quick minutes he had it done to perfection. I was very pleased with both the speed and the result, and planned to tip him another five on top of the five dollar cost.
When we reached the counter he looked at me and said: “That’ll be ten dollars.”
“Ten dollars?” I repeated. “The ad in the paper and the sign in your window both say that men’s haircuts are five dollars all day today.”
“And that they are, but that’s not what I gave you,” he answered. “You received a scalp adjustment.”
“A scalp adjustment? What, pray tell, is the difference between a haircut and a scalp adjustment?”
“Scissors cut hair, clippers adjust scalps.”
“So let me get this straight,” I said. “If I had asked you to take five times as long to do the same task only using scissors, you’d be charging me half of what you are?”
“I don’t make the rules,” he said. “If you want to ask the boss, Manny will be here on Friday.”
I was growing extremely agitated. “You know what—“I started to say, then stopped myself. Since I had intended to pay him ten dollars for whatever he did to my head anyways, I decided to simply hand over that amount rather than ruining my mood by working myself into a pissed off dither. I took a deep breath, then calmly proffered a ten dollar bill, saying: “Thank you very much, and have a great day.”
As I turned to leave, he gave me a slanted glance, gently cleared his throat, and said: “No tip?”
“It’s my understanding the gratuity is always included with scalp adjustments,” I replied. “If you want to check that with Manny, he’ll be here Friday.”
From there I went to pay my utilities, where I was told there would be a ‘convenience fee’ should I use my credit card, and to the post office, where I was met with an inexplicable handling charge for a package I had ordered that had arrived, and from there to a ticket agency, where I encountered a list of service and parking fees for a concert that I had wanted to attend, but decided against after the actual price of the ticket was tallied.
I arrived home about five thoroughly frazzled by all the doublespeak. Delvin’s crew was already there, and just finishing up the four rooms of carpet I had hired them to clean. They had done terrific work without breaking a thing, and I was most pleased. They packed up their truck, helped me return the furniture to its place, then the foreman presented me with a bill for two hundred dollars.
“Two hundred dollars!” I exclaimed. “The ad in the paper says twenty five dollars a room, and by my count, you did four.”
“That is true,” the foreman acknowledged. “But the carpet cleaner broke down earlier this afternoon, and we had to bring it into the shop for repair. We were forced to use the Lint and Schmutz Removal Unit on your job, and Delvin charges fifty dollars a room for Lint and Schmutz extraction. Sorry.”
“I wrote and handed him a check for one hundred dollars. “I’m too tired and aggravated to argue about it. Give this to Delvin, and tell him if he insists on charging me more, to bring me to small claims court. That’s the place where the city adjudicates private squabbles over lesser sums of money.”
“I know where it is, I’ve been there before with Delvin,” the foreman replied. “I, too, am too tired to argue the bill. I’ll just give your check to Delvin and let him decide how he wants to handle it. Have a nice evening, and I left a few extra business cards on the table in the kitchen for you to give to your friends.”
I showed the men out and went into the kitchen. I read one of the business cards, then dropped them all in the trash. I poured myself a beer and sat down before the television, and tuned in to the evening news, which was already in progress. The news anchor was in a discussion with the former vice president about the methods the CIA used to extract information from terror suspects. The vice president was referring to waterboarding, and starvation, and sleep deprivation, and electric shock, and nail pulling, and violent beatings, as ‘enhanced interrogation.’
“Oh, trust me,” I said aloud. “It’s torture.”